Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Taking my own Advice

I wrote this article a few months ago...long before Passover, when I felt idyllic, smug and thin.  As with the publishing world, things don't always get published  until 6-8 months later.  So, I have to admit my professional advice in a magazine hasn't quite caught up to my present day post Passover admission. For whatever it's worth, it's not bad advice, and it has made me pause for thought and reassess. 

This doesn't mean that I am no longer, neurotic or self deprecating on occasion, afterall, that's just part of my charm, the way I roll, who I am, blah, blah, blah. However, I find it ironic that this article was published today, the day after I unleashed to the blog-o-sphere of my egregious sin of weighing in during Passover.

I am feeling very accountable right now...and hungry.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Weighing in on the Last Day of Passover: Literally and Figuratively

Easter has come and gone.  The lonely leftover Peeps continue to haunt me at the supermarket with their beady little eyes and fluffy, gelatnous,  toxic colored bodies standing at attention from behind their boxed prisons.  The amassed leftover chocolate eggs and bunnies dutifully lie on the markdown table.  Easter is quick and painless.  Get in, feed your chocolate fix and get out.
Passover, however, continues to linger on (today is the last day, yipee) eventhough the grocery stores pretty much write the holiday off after day 3.  The Passover aisle is nothing but a shelf with an errant box of matzah or a lonely cake mix hanging about looking to make a comeback.
Passover is like the little engine/holiday that could.  We start out with a bang surrounded by family and friends and food that is different, but as the week drags on, and the matzah builds in our bodies,  and the guests just keep a comin, we peeter out.  Children are bickering, husbands are grumpy, and wives, (and I do include myself in this category) are pretty darn cranky.
 The inspiring, “I think I can, I think I can” has reverted to, “I just don’t care, I just don’t care, I just don’t care.”  Then, in a last ditch effort, we haul ourselves to the top of the proverbial Passover mountain, huffing and puffing, bloated and irritated, and below in the valley of the leavened, there  is a big bowl of oatmeal waiting for us (yes, that’s what I want) and school is back in session, and suddenly we are happy again.  We find peace and solace because we can go to the grocery store and buy cereal and bread for all the “good” little boys and girls who only complain that they can’t eat Cheerios.  Okay, so it’s a revisionist tale, not exactly like the childhood story we grew up on.   Work with me.
See, we really do tend to repeat history.  My children would have fit in perfectly with the Israelites who complained in the desert.  The only difference is my son would have whined that there was no Wii. However, I don’t think Moses would have lost his cool by yelling the way I did the other day,nor do I think he would have challenged the Israelites by screeching, “ARE YOU ENJOYING MOMMY’S TANTRUM? BECAUSE THIS IS WHAT YOU HAVE SOUNDED LIKE ALL WEEK!”
Nonetheless, the repercussions of Passover go beyond tantrums because today my friends, I broke the cardinal rule.  No, I didn’t go out and indulge in a sandwich, nor did I eat pizza because technically, Passover aint over until the sun goes down.  No, I did something far, far worse, more egregious than eating leavened bread.  Today…I…and I’m embarrassed to admit this-stepped on the scale.  Yes, I did. 
I hear your groans of indignation, “Oh no you didn’t.”  I hear the horror in your voices and I see all of my sisters gravely shaking their heads as they mutter, “Why, why why?” “Oh, the inhumanity.”   Every woman knows the 11th commandment, THOU SHALT NEVER, NEVER GET ON THE SCALE AFTER, (A.)DELIVERY  (B.)THE EIGHT DAY CARB FEST KNOWN AS PASSOVER.   Apparently, one needs to Pass- over the scale.  Truth be told, I am a glutton for punishment, because, I broke both A&B of this commandment.  I did weigh myself after delivery and it wasn’t pretty.  I don’t know what I was thinking.  It was like some unknown force, some rush of hormones that made me do it that fateful day 6 years ago.  I was a tempest at best.  My husband didn’t know what to do with me.  He begged me, pleaded, and prostrated himself over the scale…”For the love of God, don’t do it Rachel!”  I ignored his pleas.  I nursed the baby to get rid of the extra weight, took off my milk-stained sweatshirt that I hadn’t changed in 5 days and proceeded to approach the scale.  
Truth is, I needed some tough love, then and now.  See, the scale weighing is the portal to normalcy. It re-sets my bad habits. Now, I wasn’t horrible this past Passover.  In fact, I made a concerted effort to eat healthfully.  I bought tons of produce, low fat cheese, quinoa, and lean protein, and for the most part, I stuck to it.  My workouts were not neglected, but they weren’t all out, push myself to the limit sessions either, mainly because I was tired from all the preparation and cooking.
 No, just like with off holiday situations, it’s stress that triggers my downfall.   While I enjoyed the company of friends at my girlfriends home for second seder, I was so stressed because my egg and nut allergic son was sitting next  to a child who was basically covered in both allergens.  Egg yolks littered his table space, and he wiped some other lethal food- stuffs on his clothes.  It’s hard to explain to a child who doesn’t understand food allergies that he can’t play with his guest, because, well…he could kill him.  All it takes is a mere pinhead size of nut protein to enter Ari’s system for him to stop breathing.  My husband and I played human shield all night, my blood pressure was exploding, and my cortisol levels were through the roof, and I took my frustration out on chocolate brownies and any other chocolate item on the table.  Of course, this vortex of chocolate sucks you in sending you into a deep, dark, down spiral.  It took at least a day or two to claw my way out of that one. 
I returned to my pristine eating habits until…The Matzo Brei Fry party.  I am grateful that this cherished tradition thrown by my girlfriend isdone so at the end of the holiday.  Basically, it is a Passover junkyard, where everyone brings whatever they want to get rid of.  The festivities linger over bowls of matzo brei, wine, leftover chocolate, chips, cookies, matzo, brownies etc… We laugh, we cry and we eat.   I usually do well for the first hour or two, then…madness.  I come home and immediately hop on the elliptical feeling like a fraud.  The readout tells me I burned 400 calories, but who am kidding, I know the damage has already been done.
So, here I am, a survivor on the eighth day.  I faced my demons and got on the scale…not horrible, but not reflective of any pristine eating habits either.  I pick myself up, dust the crumbs of matzah off, and return to the land of cleaner eating.  The sudden and unpredictable heatwave only added more insult to injury by signallling the start of bare leg/bathing suit season.  I don’t expect to be a bikini model tomorrow or ever, but I am nevertheless motivated to set some new goals  while thankful that there aren’t any more eight day holidays for a while.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Passover Musings: An Ode to the Swiffer

Ode to the Swiffer
Hello again, my old friend Swiffer.
I have watched you standing there lingering against the wall
Like a lady in waiting or a jilted lover waiting to be reclaimed, longing to be loved.
You patiently anticipate the day when thou shalt be realized
As the premiere Passover appliance. 
For, alas, the past year has proven that the bristle and pan surely wins our affections.
Through the changing seasons, as the apple cake crumbs, the oily remnants of latkes, and the sticky hamantash morsels litter our floors, we effortlessly sweep them away with the broom, as you stoically watch and wait. 
Your charger lies in the darkened cabinet with its cord tightly coiled about like a sleeping snake.
Arise! Arise! Oh Swiffer, your day has come to claim your redemption, to humble and shame us with your capable servitude.
Truly, you are the only appliance worthy of gobbling up our crumbs of affliction. 
The dusty soles of our feet are forever tainted with matzah residue, an irritating reminder of the sand in the desert as we walked our way to freedom.
And we cry out to you Swiffer with our suffering. 
You are the only one who can take us out of our misery with your outstretched aluminum arm and battery charged motor.
Ah, the floor is clean again.  We maniacally and selfishly use you Swiffer until your energy is depleted.  We are distraught as we wait until you are charged once more. 
And when the holiday ceases to be, and the crumbs are nothing but the taste of a memory, we will remember it was you, oh sleek metal one, who delivered us from crumbliness to cleanliness.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Rachel's Top Ten Modern Day Afflictions-A New Spin on the Ten Plagues

Rachel’s Top Ten Modern Day Plagues
Every year, we sit at our Seder tables and ceremoniously dot our plates with wine as we recite the ten plagues.  Last year, my plate had a few extra dots on it.  My daughter accused me of being bad at math, while my husband declared I was being careless, but I actually had a reason.  In an effort to get real and truly appreciate the hardship in Egypt, I “covertly” provided a few extra modern-day plagues of my own and now I am sharing these “get real” afflictions with all of you.   You can mix and match or trade them with your friends, anything to make your life and your seder a little more meaningful.  These are in random order.
1.       Bathing suit season (which "conveniently"comes right after a carb-laden eat fest)
2.       Passover cake mixes (why even bother)?
3.       Post camp laundry (A very rank and asphyxiating affliction)
4.       Lice (it’s the plague that just keeps on giving...don't ask why....I just know)
5.       Justin Bieber
6.       Earthquakes/Tsunamis
7.       PMS and no Motrin in the house!
8.       Tweens in training (those in the know can truly identify)
9.       Being told you need to wear braces in your 40’s (don't get me started)
10.   The insulting price of gas for a minivan (as if driving a minivan wasn't insulting enough)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Weirdest Pre-Passover Meals...What's in Your Fridge?

When I was a kid, the days preceding Passover were usually filled with trepidation.  Sure, we were excited as Passover activities were in full swing, and we could almost taste the festival of freedom, a.k.a. spring break.  But, along with these frenetic preparations, terror lurked deep in the hearts of my brothers and me, especially when it came to the last few dinners prior to Passover.  Of course, my mother tried to disguise the fact that she was using us as human guinea pigs as she created dishes with every leftover in the fridge combined into a casserole or soup.

She lamely tried to pass it off as something fancy, like adding the word "surprise" to the dish.  So, it would be something like stale bread pudding, fish stick and mushroom "surprise."  MMMMMMM.  Yummy.  Nothing like mom's stale bread pudding, fish stick and mushroom surprise to actually get you to wish for a weeks worth of cardboard matza and butter.  One time she made a soup...I swear I think there was old lasagna in it and peas. Soup surprise for all. Yeahhhhh!  It's like adding the word "La" onto everything to make it sound French and fancy.  La mayonnaise, La hot dog, La peanut butter and jelly.  See how fancy it sounds?

It was really a shame we didn't have a dog to help us out, but then again, I don't think mom's homemade "surprise" meals would have gone over too well with the canine constituency either.

So, here I am, a few days before Passover and I am wondering how to get rid of the remnants of food in my fridge without poisoning my children.  I want to be creative without marketing schemes such as "surprise."  Sure, I used Mexican Fiesta to get them to eat beans...but at least the meal was tasty and relatively fresh. I wasn't deceiving them in any way, just trying to create ambience.

So, here are the few items I have left and need to get rid of.   Ice cream, french fries, some old vegetables (not rotten yet) flour, chocolate chips, 3 tbsp of wheat germ, bagels (left over from guests last weekend).  A bowl of pasta (this should last for 2 meals at least) some leftover lasagna (I 'll eat that). 

Okay, not much to go on, I know.  Last night, we had pancakes with the rest of the whole wheat pastry flour, and remaining chocolate chips.  I also had a lot of sweet potatoes, so I cooked them with some apples and served it on the side.  Hands down, one of their favorite meals.  I also added the last of the wheat germ, and used up the soy milk.  See recipe below.  They are actually healthy ( you can eliminate the chips) and there were definitely no surprises.

I sauteed some of the veggies in coconut oil for the hubby along with some leftover chopped meat thrown in.  He was happy.

I ate the veggies as well, and threw in a soy patty.  I was relatively happy.

So, you see, no need for the word "surprise"...yet.  Tonight, it just may be pasta, broccoli, and the leftover fries...not horrible.  Really, the true test will come around Thursday or so when I am completely out of everything!  I still have corn, Quinoa, applesauce and popcorn in my pantry..hmmm, now there's a dinner of champions. I may have to use the word "surprise" after all. Oh, I just noticed I also  have some oatmeal I have to get rid of!! OMG! I AM TURNING INTO MY MOTHER!!!! NOOOOOOOOOOOO!

If any of you are out there reading this....join in and tell me what your weirdest Passover meal was.

Below is my pancake recipe...allergy free of course, and quite tasty might I add!!!

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 TBSP. Sucanat (optional) Sucanat stands for sugar cane natural-it's sugar that isn't refined or processed.
2 tbsp. wheat germ (kids won't even know it's there)
1 cup soymilk (or milk)
1 tsp.vanilla
2 tbsp. oil
1 ripe banana mashed well
choco chips (optional, can substitute blueberries)

Sift dry ingredients into a bowl and mix
Combine liquid ingredients into separate bowl and combine
Pour liquid into dry ingredients and combine (don't mix too much, if it gets too thick add a little milk)
Make sure griddle is hot and ready to go, if it's nonstick you need no butter or oil)
Using a little less than a 1/4 cup per scoop, ladle 4 dollar sized pancakes onto griddle
When they start to bubble or edges look puffy, flip them over.

Makes about 20-24 dollar sized
Serve with mashed sweet potatoes, or sweet potatoes baked with apple chunks, or even cooked carrots.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Passover Musings: Fruit Gems are Neither Fruit, nor Gems...Discuss

Passover is just around the corner. Now, I don't know about you, but when I see the supermarket manager preparing the Passover aisle (which by the way was the first week of March-ridiculous) I literally break out into a sweat; I quake in my boots.  The fact that I'm wearing boots should tell you that the Passover aisle was out way too early in advance this year. Okay, it is what it is. 

I find the Passover aisle quite fascinating, actually, and I wonder, when did Fruit Gems trump Matzah and become the official symbol of Passover? I mean, if the Jews took fruit gems with them on their journey out of Egypt...Passover would have a whole different spin now, wouldn't it?

I couldn't believe how many boxes were on the shelf, so, let's talk fruit gems for a moment.  From a health perspective, these have to be the most egregious candy of them all and while they are my husband's favorite, I refused to buy them.  I just couldn't. Even the fruit were insulted. No apple, orange, lemon or lime could compete with those toxic neon-colored fruit gems.  My teeth ached just thinking about all that crystallized, crunchy sugar. My husband was not pleased with my fruit gem ban.  PUH-LEAZE!  " Look how many limitations your son has? Suck it up!"  I barked at him.  "Believe me, I am doing you a favor!"

He looked oh, so skeptical...and yet, there was no sardonic comeback, no sarcastic response, no witty repartee or obnoxious utterances.  Perhaps, I actually won an argument...Hmmm, I guess miracles really do exist on Passover.  Moses aint got nothing on me.

Passover is the hardest holiday for anyone with food limitations as it's a holiday that revolves around food.  Let's not even dwell on trying to stay healthy (though, I just did). For us, it's an egg/nut allergic son, a vegetarian and lactose intolerant daughter, not to mention a carnivore lovin' husband. 

I have really changed my tune over the years regarding Passover and food consumption.  It used to be a free for all, an eight day pass from eating like a normal person.  It was junk central that started with the Seders and continued to infinity and beyond.  It included baking, chocolate, matzah and cream cheese, matzah and butter, matzah and cheese, matzah and chocolate spread.  Basically, matzah was the vehicle to eat any kind of hydrogenated, fat, sugary, spicy, sweet, and/or chocolaty substance.  It's a shame that some of us don't eat peanut butter on Passover, because, I could have killed for PB&J matzah sandwich. 

I baked a lot.  I made platters of meringues, mandelbread, brownies, cookies, cakes, kugels, mousses and chocolate confections and I spread the wealth and brought them into friends' homes.  Dessert was my Seder territory and I loved it. 

Then, Ari was diagnosed with egg and nut allergies, the building blocks of Passover cooking.  I truly struggled in learning how to feed him.The first year, I was beside myself.  He was hungry all the time, he cried and couldn't sleep ( because he was so hungry).  He couldn't eat anything at the seder.  He was miserable and so was I.  By day four of the holiday, he completely shut down.  He was lethargic, cranky, and having loads of meltdowns, so, I made him oatmeal, and he perked up like a flower getting water after a long, drought.

Ari's experiences made me soul search a little further.  Why did Passover have to be the festival of fruit gems?  Why did I subject myself to consumptive Passover eating that in the end, only made me feel bad physically and emotionally? It really wasn't necessary.  So, I made a conscious decision, starting a few years back to STOP THE PASSOVER MADNESS.

No more muffin mixes, gone went the butter which I indulged in w/ matzah on an hourly basis.  I removed most desserts from my repertoire as well. It got to a point where Ari looked so sad when he saw platters of treats that he once ate but could no longer.  Besides, the leftovers lurking in the freezer taunted me well into May. I focused on more whole foods, veggies, fruits, Quinoa, whole wheat matzah, fish and chicken along with some occasional chocolate indulgences. I tried to keep my focus on the meaning of Passover, and making it special for the family in ways other than food.

I must say, that while I am certainly not perfect, the last few Passovers have been much better from a food perspective.  As I became more creative, Ari appeared less hungry. Moreover, I didn't feel like a slug suctioned to a bloated, beached whale.  That is definitely a good thing.

It's definitely a challenge when you have to try new things and it has taken a few years to make Passover "normal" with a nut and egg allergy.  But, in the end, we are all a little better for it.  I learned an important lesson from Ari.  You can give up certain things, and still feel like things are special.

My next Passover musing....Passover Pet Peeves...look for it soon!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Biscuit and the Beast

In a very rare and unprecedented move, I ordered pizza the other night for dinner. Yes, I hear the collective sighs of horror and in my defense I usually never order pizza. However, my daughter pleaded Papa John and I succumbed to my lazy alter ego. I was so tired after a non-stop Sunday of activities and while I'm usually the person who insists on healthy meals at home, I indulged in a fleeting moment of weakness and let my junk food beast out of its cage.  BIG MISTAKE. But you probably knew that already.

Thirty minutes later, as predicted, my husband was washing down the pizza with a pink, pepto chaser while my daughter lay on the couch in a pizza induced coma, while I wallowed in self loathing, only to wake up with a terrible food hangover.

But let's add more insult to injury, shall we?  I had to borrow money from my 10 year old to pay for the peptic pizza. So sad. 

Hold on, though....there's more.  She left a note on my pillow in the form of an IOU, with a line for my signature! Are you kidding me?  Remember when you couldn't wait for them to take their first steps? Utter their first words? Well, now I have experienced  her first IOU...Awwww., so sweet.  You know I'm saying this with dripping sarcasm...right? Now, kudos to her for being assertive.  I wish I could be assertive like her, I probably would have gotten much further in my professional career, but alas, I am what I am.  

The IOU wasn't just for the pizza, however.  Apparently, I forgot to give her the $25 she received for her birthday from a generous uncle, back in December, and she was demanding payment.  Now, in my defense, I do remember cashing that check.  I had every good intention of giving it to her, but things got in the way, like-food for instance, or more likely another strep test co-pay.  So, I probably forgot to replace the funds-bad mommy. 

Nevertheless, she decided to make this a capital offense, so I responded in kind.  I wrote her an IOU for $100,000 and a place for her signature.  I told her she didn't have to write in script if she didn't want too.  After all, I can be reasonable.

"What's this? She asked, perplexed.

"It's what you owe me and daddy, since before the day you were born." I countered.

"Mom!"  She said with typical ten year-old annoyance.

What?" I asked in mock innocence.

"This isn't fair, you owe me that money!"

"You owe me that money." I said as I pointed to the IOU.  "Oh, yeah, and that bill doesn't even include the extra day that insurance didn't cover when I had to stay in the hospital because you were a whopping nine pound child and your labor took an excruciating 18 hours! The doctor had to pull you out with a biggest pair of salad tongs I ever saw!"  (Okay, I didn't really mention the salad tongs part, but I was sooo tempted).

She rolls her eyes.  I'm feeling smug.

"Am I ever going to get my money?"  She asks pleadingly.  "And please don't ask me the same question, because you know I don't have the money. And you know what else?  This pizza drama just isn't worth it." 

Now, I swoop in to make my point...feelin' a bit cocky, might I add.

"So, sweetie, basically what you are saying, is that ordering pizza isn't all it's cracked up to be and we are probably better off without it, right?"

She looks at me blankly.  "No, I mean, next time we order pizza, you and Dad need to use your OWN money!"

So, I'm debating whether this  encounter qualifies as a mother/daughter moment.  I'll get back to you all on that.

So, the next day, after the great  pizza debacle, it was time to clean up our food act.  My husband had switched from hard core Pepto to Tums...things were looking up. I didn't have a lot in the fridge, but I had a few staples to throw together to make a really, good, healthy, filling meal....Soup and biscuits.  

I love soup, and it's even better when you make it yourself (with a little help of course from my good friends at Imagine Organic No-chicken broth).  Here is my recipe for Dump It Soup and Biscuits

Dump It Soup
1 container No-chicken Chicken broth (completely vegetarian) approx. 4 cups
2 more cups of water + 2 heaping teaspoons soup powder

(Here is where you get creative and dump it, find what you have on hand and throw it in, this is what I used).

1 onion
1 green zucchini chopped-not finely chopped however
2 yellow zucchini (same as above)
1/2 a bag of baby carrots chopped small
3-4 ribs of celery-chopped
1/2 cup of leftover rice
1/ cup corn
1 tbsp olive oil

Saute onion in olive oil in a Dutch oven pot until translucent
Pour in the chicken broth and additional water and powder
Bring to a rolling boil
Dump in chopped vegetables
Bring down the heat and let the vegetables simmer.
When the vegetables are soft, pour in rice and corn.
Season with salt, pepper, onion powder, ( I had fresh parsley so that went in as well).

The beauty about this soup aside from the ease, is that I had about a bowl's worth left over and some black beans from Mexican fiesta, so I dumped them in the next day....really good.

So quick, easy and very yummy.  Goes great with soup.  They are egg and dairy free. 

I make these all the time because they are so good, they pump up the nutrition at a meal and they are very versatile.  These can be dinner biscuits, or a base for a strawberry shortcake (just fill with vanilla yogurt or whip cream if you prefer, and some strawberries). You can also use them as an appetizer.  Split them in half and put a light cream cheese on them with some lox and a small piece of romaine.  You can serve it open faced or with the top back on.  If there are leftovers from dinner, the kids eat them for breakfast with some apple butter or jam on them.

Ingredients-Makes 24 small or 12 large
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2/3 cup unbleached flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp sucanat (optional but adds a slight sweetness)
1-2 tbsp wheat germ (optional)
1/3 cup canola oil
2/3 cup soy milk (regular is fine as well)

Preheat oven to 475 degrees
Lightly grease a cookie sheet( I line with aluminum foil first)
In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, sugar, wheat germ and salt until combined.  Add the milk and oil and stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened.  It will be very sticky and thick, not smooth like cake batter.

Scoop 12 biscuits onto cookie sheet (walnut sized if you are making 24).  Make sure they are about 1 1/2 inches apart.

Bake until the bottoms are golden brown, about 8 minutes.  Serve hot.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Travelling with Your Food Allergic Child

Hi everyone. My latest article, entitled Travelling with Your Food Allergic Child was just published on  Take a look and let me know what you think. 

Have a great weekend!!